Don't miss out on the health support you need

Mental health is as important as other health concerns, says MHV CEO Angus Clelland, in an editorial in Victoria's regional newpapers. 

One of the big worries for health experts in Australia right now is not what you might have thought. It's that our health services may be emptier than we want them to be.

We've all been getting the messages that we have to stay at home if we possibly can to try to "flatten the curve", to make sure that the COVID-19 novel coronavirus does not produce a surge of critically ill patients that our emergency departments cannot manage.

But one of the side effects of that is that many people may not be attending to non-COVID-19 related health issues at the moment.

They may think they would be imposing an unnecessary burden on the health system or they may be fearful of contracting COVID-19 in a health setting.

The worry about that was made clear last week by Dr Michael Kidd, one of the key advisors to Australian governments on the coronavirus.

He said that one of the big lessons from past epidemics and pandemics is that often people don't make sure to get the regular health care they need and that, as a result, we see more deaths then from preventable chronic conditions than from the infectious agent itself.

That's as important a message for mental health as it is for any physical health condition like hypertension or diabetes.

National mental health commissioner Christine Morgan said recently that it's almost impossible for any of us to go through being physically isolated, and in such a scenario of uncertainty as we're having now with the coronavirus without it having some impact on our mental health.

That's even before we consider the stress or anxiety that so many people are now feeling due to employment changes, business closure, financial difficulties, family pressures or other challenges, including pre-existing mental health issues.

There are of course many things we can do to help ourselves and the commissioner has launched the #InThisTogether campaign that brings together resources and tips.

But we may also need to reach out for support.

Therefore we have welcomed significant recent investment in mental health from both the federal and Victorian governments.

That includes $60 million in surge funding announced last week by Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley to help those who already struggle with mental illness and those who are experiencing it for the first time in this pandemic.

The funding is being targeted to important groups and communities and includes the statewide rollout of the Hospital Outreach Post-Suicidal Engagement (HOPE) program in Shepparton and Bairnsdale - a key recommendation of Victoria's Mental Health Royal Commission.

And one of the biggest investments announced by the federal government is the roll-out of telehealth - for health consultations that don't necessarily have to be face-to-face, including mental health services.

That's something we've been urging for years, particularly for rural and regional Australians who, as you know too well, can struggle to physically access health care, either because of a lack of services or lack of transport or other obstacle.

It is truly one of the silver linings in this pandemic, one of the biggest changes in health delivery in Australia in years and one that was developed in just weeks.

We know that telehealth won't suit everyone, but we know it can be very effective.

Here are some tips from community psychologist Lyn O'Grady on how to make the most of it.

1. Log on and check the technology before the starting time.

2. Find a quiet and private place for the session. Have a drink with you and a pen and paper for notes.

3. Take some time before the session to think through what you would like to talk about. Jot down a few points.

4. Be prepared for the technology not to be perfect. Plan with your health professional what will happen if the technology drops out or is hard to manage.

5. Provide the health professional with feedback about how you found the session - what did you like? What didn't work so well? What could make it better for you?

Wishing you all the best in these challenging days.

Angus Clelland is chief executive of Mental Health Victoria

  • Australian Government's digital mental health portal 
  • Beyond Blue's Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service: 
  • National Mental Health Commission: 
  • Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Line 1800 512 348
  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
  • Beyond Blue 1300 224 636